Legislative Budget-Writing Committee to Hear CEA Members’ Concerns
CEA members’ concerns about education and retiree health care funding will be front and center tonight at a public hearing of the legislature’s Appropriations Committee as CEA staff members outline problems with the governor’s budget proposal. Hearings before the legislature’s budget writing committee are an important means for members of the public to share their comments on state budget priorities, and CEA leaders testify every legislative session, speaking out on issues of importance to members.
The state budget proposed by Governor Malloy cuts $11.5 million of a previously agreed upon commitment to the Education Cost Sharing (ECS) formula while continuing to increase funding for charter schools by $9.3 million.
In prepared testimony already submitted to the Appropriations Committee, CEA Director of Policy, Research, and Reform Donald Williams wrote, “This disparity is not right, and in a time of shared sacrifice we urge the legislature to be even-handed in meeting the challenges of the budget.”
ECS funding in the governor’s budget for 2017 has increased just eight percent since 2009. Over those same eight years, funding for charter schools has increased 169 percent.
“In a time of difficult budget choices, we recommend that the needs of those students in our priority schools and the local, neighborhood schools throughout our state remain your top priority,” Williams emphasized. “Those are the schools where more than 90 percent of our students receive their education. CEA urges the legislature to continue on its path toward fully funding ECS.”
Williams also highlighted other problematic education funding cuts in the governor’s budget, including reductions to Priority Schools grants, school based health centers, special education grants, magnet schools, programs for English Language Learners, and CommPACT/Community Schools. Read Williams’ testimony here.
During a Department of Education budget presentation to the Appropriations Committee earlier this afternoon, committee members addressed education funding cuts and the agency’s priorities with Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzel. Legislators had questions about funding for special education, health centers, magnet schools, and many other programs they see as vital to students’ success.
In order to determine where the state should focus limited funds the Appropriations Committee has asked state agencies to outline their foremost priorities. Appropriations Committee member and Education Committee Co-Chair Senator Gayle Slossberg questioned why providing data and analysis regarding the state of education is one of the Education Department’s top five priorities.
“I don’t think we should make decisions without data, but I’m concerned about that becoming a primary responsibility,” she said.
Funding for Retired Teachers’ Health Insurance
Adequate funding for the Retired Teachers’ Health Insurance Fund is another priority for educators. The fund provides a subsidy to retired teachers that covers a portion of their health insurance costs.
The fund is sustained primarily by contributions from active and retired teachers. The state is required by statute to contribute 33 percent of the cost, but the governor’s proposed budget continues to provide a reduced appropriation to the fund—only 15 percent of the cost of the plan.
CEA Retirement Specialist Robyn Kaplan-Cho will testify tonight about the need for the legislature to adequately support the fund.
“CEA has addressed this committee many times before, consistently asking that the full statutory amount be appropriated. This year, we again are requesting that this Committee reconsider the reduced appropriation,” Kaplan-Cho noted in written testimony already submitted. “The retiree health fund was originally set up to be sustained primarily by contributions from active and retired teachers but also to have a committed appropriation from the state. The reality is that active teachers have contributed the lion’s share to this fund and their contributions have never wavered.”
Stay tuned to BlogCEA for more developments this legislative session affecting public education.